The Role of Theory in Field Experiments

33 Pages Posted: 16 May 2011 Last revised: 29 Oct 2014

See all articles by David Card

David Card

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics; Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Stefano DellaVigna

University of California, Berkeley; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Ulrike Malmendier

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics; University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

Date Written: May 2011

Abstract

We propose a new classification of experiments that captures the extent to which the experimental design and analysis are linked to economic theory. We then use this system to classify all published field experiments in the five top economics journals from 1975 to 2010. We find that the vast majority of field experiments (68%) are Descriptive studies that lack any explicit model; 18% are Single Model studies that test a single model-based hypothesis; 6% are Competing Models studies that test competing model-based hypotheses; and 8% are Parameter Estimation studies that estimate structural parameters in a completely specified model. Using the same system to classify laboratory experiments published over the same period, we find that economic theory has played a more central role in the laboratory than in the field. Finally, we discuss in detail three sets of field experiments, on gift exchange, on charitable giving, and on negative income tax, that illustrate both the benefits and the potential costs of a tighter link between experimental design and theoretical underpinnings.

Suggested Citation

Card, David E. and DellaVigna, Stefano and Malmendier, Ulrike, The Role of Theory in Field Experiments (May 2011). NBER Working Paper No. w17047, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1841284

David E. Card (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics ( email )

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Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Stefano DellaVigna

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Ulrike Malmendier

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics ( email )

549 Evans Hall #3880
Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
United States
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(510) 642-6615 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.econ.berkeley.edu/~ulrike/

University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business ( email )

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2220 Piedmont Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

HOME PAGE: http://www.iza.org/en/webcontent/personnel/photos/index_html?key=918

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